Cars Driving Fuel efficiency Technology

Toronto Star story on fuel-efficient driving

A piece I wrote for the Star’s Wheels section in my role as CAA Magazine editor. It was published on the web Feb. 24 and in print Feb. 25, 2012


If you’re like most drivers, you’re probably wondering how to reconcile your love of the open road with your concern for the environment.

Thanks to a combination of automotive innovation, good driving habits and some old-fashioned common sense, you can enjoy the drive and worry less about its effect on the world around you.

And while you might be in the market for a hybrid Toyota Prius or a fully electric car, like the Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt, know that you can still get some positive environmental mileage out of the ordinary internal-combustion machine parked in your driveway.

One of the best things you can do for any car is maintain it. Yep, it’s as simple as following your owner’s manual, checking fluid levels once a month, changing the oil at the required intervals and overall making sure everything is running as it should be — or taking it to an auto service technician when you think it isn’t.

“A poorly maintained vehicle may consume more fuel,” says Stephen Akehurst, chief, ecoENERGY Efficiency for Vehicles Program at NRCan (Natural Resources Canada).

“Poor maintenance adversely affects performance, produces higher levels of emissions and often leads to expensive repairs and low resale value.”

According to research from Desrosiers Automotive Consultants, the average age of vehicles on Canadian roads is increasing, so it only makes sense to make sure all the money we’re putting into them has some benefit for us as well as the environment.

While you’re at it, don’t neglect tires. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance and will negatively affect fuel efficiency. They’ll also wear faster.

“Tire pressure is a big one,” says Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations at CAA South Central Ontario. “That, and proper maintenance, is really important.”

Before you head out on the road, take a look at what’s inside your car, van or SUV. In addition to the important things like kids, dog, hockey equipment or groceries, you might find that a lot of extra, unnecessary stuff has accumulated inside your vehicle.

Or, you might be driving around with an empty bike or roof rack.

Remove any excess items and only install racks when you need them. The more weight you’re driving around with, the more fuel your car’s engine is going to burn.

When you do get behind the wheel, don’t just hit the gas and go — no jackrabbit starts followed by hard braking.

“The harder you accelerate, the more fuel you use,” says NRCan’s Akehurst. “In the city, where about half of the fuel you consume is used to accelerate your vehicle, you can save as much as 15 per cent by pressing the pedal gently. Imagine an open cup of coffee on your dashboard: don’t spill it!”

But don’t idle, either. Thirty seconds is about all your car needs before the engine and fuel is warmed up enough for you to get moving. And, except when you’re stuck in traffic, don’t let your car idle for extended periods. If you’re going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds, shut off the engine.

Once you get onto the highway, it’s best to maintain a constant speed of about 90 km/h. “We always say watch your speed, not just because it’s the law,” says Di Felice. “The prime highway speed is about 90 km/h; once you get above that, you’re really increasing your fuel consumption.”

On the highway, cruise control helps too, as it keeps your vehicle at a constant speed. Just remember to be aware that cruising at 70 km/h while cars around are moving at 90 km/h is unsafe.

Along with arming yourself with some DIY tips on eco-driving, it helps to use some forethought and plan your driving trips in advance, especially if you have several errands to run.

“Plan your trips accordingly, and consider if any of them are walkable or somewhere you can bicycle to,” advises CAA’s Di Felice.

“By decreasing the number of trips you take, you’re obviously reducing your fuel consumption.”

For more eco-driving tips, visit or

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.